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Bruce Yonemoto: Screen Gems
December 14, 2001–March 10, 2002



Bruce and Norman Yonemoto
Environmental, 1993
two-channel video projection, monitor, 14 home movie screens; dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Santa Monica, CA

Bruce Yonemoto's self-reflexive, multimedia works of art in the deftly titled exhibition Screen Gems (a reference to the 1950s movie magazine with the same title) investigate how race, ethnicity, identity, time, and meaning are constituted through the apparatus of film, Hollywood, and the media. Born 1949 and reared in the Santa Clara valley, CA, Bruce Yonemoto has seen that farmland valley's extirpation and regeneration as Silicon Valley, the center of computer technology and dot.com startups (and their break down) in America. Like most of his baby-boom generation, his childhood was mediated by television, Hollywood movies, magazines, and comic books. Mass media has profoundly shaped Bruce Yonemoto's life, casting long shadows on his comprehension of American popular culture and his place in that broadly defined and changing ideology. He excavates his Sansei (third-generation) Japanese American genealogy and considers how post-World War II American media defined Japanese identity and produced it as the suspect other. Working with screens, monitors, imagery, objects, footage, and ideas from video, film, television, and popular culture, Yonemoto examines personal, cultural, and social memory and their roles in the construction of identity.

Yonemoto's cinematic and filmic installations make overt references to particular films, such as his conceptual nod to the early 1960s film of H. G. Wells's novel The Time Machine. Yet they also suggest a larger and more complicated context than simply the visual pleasure, distraction, and conundrum of film. In many of the works in this exhibition, Yonemoto examines the manipulation of time, metaphorically, physically, and cinematically. He refers to specific films, narrowing his-and our-perspective, and then pans out to include a broader view. Our experience of time, mediated by the media and by our physical and emotional place in the world shapes Yonemoto's work. The Claymation flowers in the Time Machine series demonstrate how time and experience are manipulated through film, projection, viewing, and ways of seeing. Yonemoto also critically investigates the construction of Japanese American identity and how it has been manipulated, mediated, redrawn, and handed back to him; packaged through film, the media and its distortions. In Environmental (1993), a work he completed in collaboration with his brother Norman, he borrowed Warner Bros. special-effects footage used in World War II movies about the Pacific. According to Yonemoto they are "movies which did not have to apologize for their propagandistic and openly racist attitudes" (unpublished artist's statement, Bruce and Norman Yonemoto, n.d.). These images are projected against a background of different home movie screens that overlap one another to create a stuttered, fragmented visage. Opposite these screens, a small television monitor plays a montage of 1950s television commercials that aired during Yonemoto's childhood. The commercial images of a giddy, postwar consumer America are thrown into relief against the anti-Japanese propaganda. Americans of all backgrounds were expected to swallow both sets of imagery without question.

In The Wedding, Yonemoto projects images across a reconstructed byobu screen, a folding Japanese screen often used in ritual ceremonies. Here, the byobu is reconfigured as an apparatus for optical and conceptual perception, as images of clouds and a traditional Japanese wedding are projected onto its accordion-folded surface. Yonemoto employs both time-lapse photography and extreme slow motion in this installation to reveal that which is normally invisible to our perception. The time-lapse photography speeds up the cloud film, making the clouds' slow and luxurious movement easily visible. And in the wedding scene, the slow motion makes visible gestures and movements that normally pass by too quickly to be seen. The images of clouds may suggest infinity but the wedding scene may suggest the boundaries not only of marriage, but also the constraints, burdens, and pressures of ritual-bound cultures. Ritual represents cultural continuity but also can thwart change and growth. While some of our warmest childhood memories may be based on repeated rituals, we may also be burdened by the pressure to sustain ritual. Yonemoto's The Wedding may invoke both the pleasure and anxiety of orchestrating and complying with cultural expectations.

Bruce Yonemoto's work in Bruce Yonemoto: Screen Gems adroitly calls into question the often unquestioned images that the media presents to us. As filmmaker and object maker, Yonemoto exerts control over our spectatorship, which elongates into control over imagery, especially notable in the often anti-humanistic imagery produced by Hollywood and the media. Yonemoto examines the ideas of time, memory, and how they can be constructed filmically, if only for a moment in their natural fluidity. By combining the historical memory of Environmental with the fleeting memory of time in the Time Machine series and other works, Bruce Yonemoto's self-reflexive works suggest that memory is an apparatus of history's ongoing, open-ended production.

Dana Self
Curator